How Canada can recover the exuberance of its centennial year
(From The Catholic Register, http://www.catholicregister.org, issue of June 25, 2017)
By Glen Argan
So striking in Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations is the lack of the exuberance which marked our centennial in 1967. Fifty years ago, every village, town and city had a centennial project which, in some way, expressed its hope for an even better future. Hundreds of thousands of Canadian pilgrims made their way to Montreal to participate in Expo 67 world’s fair.
Perhaps part of the joy of Canada’s centennial was that the decision-makers of the age had lived through the Great Depression and the world war of 1939-45. Life had been an uncertain struggle for survival, many had put their lives on the line for our country and now there was peace and prosperity. The 100th anniversary of Confederation really was something to celebrate.
What has changed? Many things. Governments began to believe the welfare state was not affordable, that if prosperity were to continue, the taxes of the rich would have to be reduced and wealth would then trickle down to those “willing to work.”
Then there was abortion. In 1969, it was legalized, ostensibly only when a committee of doctors had determined that a woman needed an abortion to protect her physical and mental well-being. Legalized abortion was seen as a leap forward for the freedom and dignity of women.
In most places, the doctors’ committee turned out to be a rubber stamp for any woman who sought to abort her unborn child. It was no surprise when, 19 years later, the Supreme Court threw out that flimsy law, leaving Canada as one of the few countries in the world with no legal restrictions on abortion.
Buoyed with that “success” and with the new Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Supreme Court later legalized same-sex marriage and then assisted suicide. It came to call the Constitution a living document. This euphemism appears to mean that the high court justices can make the constitution say whatever they want it to say. It has provided the framework for a secular authoritarian religion.
The new reign of contraception and abortion has resulted in a lot fewer children. In the older section of Edmonton where I live, the number of Catholic schools has dwindled from seven or eight in the early 1970s to three today. The former school closest to our home is now a seniors’ centre.
Children are marvellous gifts to both their parents and the wider community. They call forth self-sacrifice by the parents and crush the amount of a family’s disposable income. Yet, children and young people also fill the community with their abundant energy and hope for the future.
As the average age of Canadians has crept upwards, it’s not surprising that our country has lost some of its joie de vivre and that our willingness to sacrifice for the common good has eroded. Canadians have become increasingly self-absorbed and our country is poorer for it.
Meanwhile, employment in our manufacturing sector has dropped sharply. Canadian workers have been replaced, not so much by Mexican or Chinese workers, as by robots. This applies to several sectors of the economy. For large numbers of people, computerization has led to economic uncertainty and despair.
The greatness of our country has been kept alive largely by immigrants and refugees who are keenly aware of our peace, prosperity and freedom. Such newcomers also often bring a strong religious faith.
Indeed, the decline in religious practice is the core of Canada’s woes. Christian living means, in some way, to share in Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Those serious about that faith know in their bones that life has ups and downs, and that happiness is a gift, not an entitlement.
Political scientist David Walsh has written that today’s liberal societies “seem powerless to prevent the progressive descent into incivility and lawlessness.” The only hope for such societies is to become rooted in love.
Christian love includes the willingness to sacrifice oneself for the good of others. Such love comes from God’s grace, not from the pursuit of self-interest. If Canada is to rediscover the overflowing optimism of its centennial year, Canadians – especially their elites – will have to turn back to God and to serving the common good.